For a while, every writer "had to have" a Myspace page, and then you "had to have" a blog, and then I lost track for a while--maybe it was Facebook or Twitter you had to have. Nowadays, a newsletter seems to be the thing to have.
The trouble with these must-have platforms is
that they tend to work best for the early adopters. Then the audience
becomes saturated, then oversaturated, and people decide something else
is the new must-have.
And I suspect that is what will happen with
newsletters. More and more writers seem to be doing them. I don't send
one out myself, but I do get a few, and I thought I'd share FWIW what I
like and don't like as a reader.
I am currently very careful
about signing up for any new newsletters. I get a lot of email as it is,
and by far the best email falls into two categories: 1) personal
messages from people I know; and 2) messages about my writing (fan mail,
communications from agent, acceptances from editors, etc.). I get tons
and tons of spam, and fundraising requests, and political-action
messages, and I'm not eager to add new email to my box unless it's more
like categories 1 and 2 than like the spam.
Some of the
newsletters I most enjoy getting (not in any particular order) are from:
Powell's bookstore; Brent Hartinger; Beth Kephart's Juncture; my local
library. There may be a couple of others I'm forgetting at the moment.
But here's why I like them:
--I asked for them, either by
actively signing up or by initiating contact with the writer. One thing I
really dislike is when authors with whom I've had no contact add me to
their mailing lists, or when companies start bombarding me with messages
when I haven't actively signed up for their lists. A few authors have
sent me newsletters that had me scratching my head: Who is this person
and why is he announcing his new books in a genre I don't even read?
include interesting information beyond just "buy my book!" Powell's has
author interviews and essays that are about interesting topics. My
library's newsletter lets me know what is going on: upcoming workshops,
for example. Beth Kephart invites a conversation with her readers, most
of whom are also writers.
--They have a unique flavor and a
personality. Beth Kephart and Brent Hartinger both address their readers
in tones that are typical of their author voices (Kephart's thoughtful,
intimate, poetic; Hartinger's fun and often funny), and that show an
awareness of audience. Too many newsletters just seem to be slick,
slapped-together commercials that are being flung out into an anonymous
universe: an ad for an upcoming book, with perhaps a favorable review
quote, and maybe a short, generalized message to readers that could just
as easily appear in any other author's newsletter. I like knowing
that a favorite author has a new book out; I'm not saying that an
author newsletter has to coyly sidestep that fact. But a book ad is not
the same thing as a newsletter.
--They are fairly brief; any
longer material is click-to-see-more. Nobody can spend all day reading
newsletters. The ones I've mentioned are succinct. Powell's is the
longest, but it's formatted so that you can see at a glance which
features and interviews are of enough personal interest to click through
and read the whole thing.
I have absolutely bought or checked
out books that I found out about from newsletters. But I still find most
of my books in other ways. I think a newsletter can work well for
authors who really want to do them (rather than feeling obligated to),
who can think of ways to put their own personal spin on them. But I also
think newsletters are not "must-haves" for those who'd rather not do